Federal funding for a multitude of programs to fight right-wing extremism in Germany is coming up for review. Proposals from the conservative CDU that could dilute this funding have some experts worried.
The state funds many projects to prevent the rise of the far-right
The case of Ermyas M., the Ethiopian-born German who was brutally beaten over the Easter weekend in what many consider to have been a racist attack, has again put the specter of right-wing extremism in Germany firmly in the spotlight.
People in Potsdam are still shaken by the attack on Ermyas M.
Experts say far-right, anti-foreigner sentiment is on the rise throughout the country, especially in the states that formally comprised East Germany. And they're concerned about the current debate on the future of state funding for programs aimed at combating intolerance and racism.
Funding agreement to expire
Following an arson attack on a synagogue in Düsseldorf in October 2000, the federal government under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder set up several initiatives to counter right-wing extremism. The current funding agreement for these programs expires at the end of this year, and although continued funding has been guaranteed in the new government's coalition agreement, the ruling conservative party, the CDU, has said it wants to review how the money is divided.
Currently, around 19 million euros ($23.5 million) a year flow into Civitas, a tolerance initiative aimed particularly at eastern Germany, and Entimon, which funds projects to increase acceptance of cultural diversity and the integration of foreigners.
A third program, Xenos, aimed at promoting respect, tolerance and understanding for foreigners in schools and on the job, is financed by the EU's European Social Funds.
Since 2001, around 3,600 projects and initiatives under these three organizations have received more than 154 million euros in funding.
Including other forms of extremism
Ursula von der Leyen's ministry wants the funding to extend to other forms of extremism
The CDU and the ministry for families headed by Ursula von der Leyen has signaled that it would like to restructure the funding of these programs in order to support initiatives against left-wing and Islamic extremism. As a result, programs aimed solely at right-wing extremism could find themselves with less money to spend.
Politicians from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the Left Party have particularly criticized the CDU's inclusion of left-wing extremism in its proposal, saying it simply isn't a big problem in Germany.
"The CDU is being completely irrational in its suggestion that there are problems with extreme left-wingers in eastern Germany," Uwe Karsten-Heye, former government spokesman and head of the pro-tolerance program Gesicht Zeigen (Show Your Face), told Der Spiegel.
Less funding, he said, would "destroy everything that we've worked so hard to set in motion."
"If there was an acute threat from left-wing extremists in Germany, then I would support the views of the CDU," said Bundestag Vice President Wolfgang Thierse (SPD). "Violence, no matter what political motivation it stems from, has to be fought. But we don't have any serious problems with left-wing extremism in Germany at present; the statistics are clear on that."
Thierse added that the SPD was working hard to ensure that the work of programs such as Civitas, Xenos and Entimon would continue. Curtailing their funding now, he said, would be the "wrong signal."
But with funding up for review, some within the CDU have said that now is the right time to consider the diversity and success rate of the many projects targeting racism and hate crimes.
"Not everything that is meant well is also done well," said CDU parliamentarian Kristina Köhler. "A savings potential when it comes to these projects is definitely there."
Experts say anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are on the rise in Germany
Germany's umbrella organization for these projects, the Federal Association for Democracy and Tolerance (BFDT), however, said there was still untapped potential in the diversity of initiatives that have received funding in recent years.
"We haven't yet exhausted all the possibilities," said the BFDT's deputy managing director, Reiner Schiller-Dickhut. "My wish would be for more evaluation of the various projects, so that we could have a more systematic transfer of knowledge and experience. My concern is that the expertise we've gathered over the past few years is not being implemented as fully as it could be."
More expected on local level
Something that most everyone in the debate can agree on is the need for more action at the local and regional levels to quash the spread of xenophobia and racist violence in Germany.
"It's important that the state and regional authorities also do their share and not just look to the federal level," said Thierse.
And in an Internet chat on German broadcaster ARD's Web site on the weekend, Klaus Schroeder, an expert on right-wing extremism at Berlin's Freie University, suggested that action on the community level was the most surefire method of preventing young people from seeking out the far-right scene in the first place. "Only if the problem is a topic of discussion in the smaller circles -- in the family, within the peer group, etc., is there a chance to limit the damage," Schroeder said.